For a long time, Americans for Prosperity’s weapon of choice in its war on the Affordable Care Act was the average, ordinary person who had unwittingly become a “victim” of Obamacare. The group, which serves as the Koch brothers’ primary outlet for political activism, produced a series of the "victim" advertisements targeted at several different states, and they had a curious tendency to backfire when observers pointed out that their “victims” actually stood to benefit handsomely from the law.
It’s been quite a long time since anyone has had to dig through the personal life of an Obamacare “victim” featured in an AFP ad. The group produced a spot late last month in which a former Marine blamed Sen. Mary Landrieu for his rising health insurance costs, and no one really cared. If AFP’s two newest ads are any indication, the group has abandoned the tactic.
Yesterday, AFP unveiled ads in Michigan and Arkansas, where Republicans are looking to pick up Senate seats in November. Both ads dovetail with the Republican candidates’ strategies in those states, and both ads are, in their own special ways, bad.
Let’s start in Michigan, where Republican Terri Lynn Land is looking to beat Democratic Rep. Gary Peters in the race for the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Carl Levin. Land’s campaign is focused on appealing to women, and released a cheeky ad last month mocking the notion that she could be complicit in the “War on Women,” a trope Democratic candidates have eagerly deployed against Republican candidates. The tactic has thus far not been terribly successful; the most recent polling has Peters leading Land by 6 points overall, and by 14 points among women.
AFP’s ad attacks Peters by focusing on hardships faced by women in the state. “Michigan women understand: it’s tough to make ends meet,” the ad starts out. Peters’ support for the Affordable Care Act forms the crux of the attack, as the ad claims that the ACA is responsible for “driving up our health premiums by nearly 40 percent.”
This is bullshit.
If you squint hard enough you’ll see that AFP attributed the claim to an April 7 Forbes.com article. That article was actually reporting the results of a Morgan Stanley survey of 148 insurance brokers nationwide, which “points to significant acceleration in small group & individual rate increases.” For Michigan, the increase was pegged at 36 percent.
If you look at the state-by-state data in that survey, you’ll see that Morgan Stanley arrived at its number for Michigan based on responses from six insurance brokers. I’ll repeat that: They arrived at a statewide estimate on how much insurance premiums had risen after talking to six brokers.
Also, the survey dealt only with individual and small group plans and didn’t touch on employer-subsidized health insurance, which is what the vast majority (somewhere around 60 percent) of Michigan residents have. So when the ad says Gary Peters and Obamacare are “driving up our health premiums,” what it means is that premiums are going up for the section of the population that isn’t covered through their employers, according to unreliable data from six anonymous insurance brokers.
(This isn’t the first time AFP has leaned on this Morgan Stanley survey to produce a misleading ad. They cut a spot in New Hampshire claiming that premiums had skyrocketed 90 percent under Obamacare, again citing Morgan Stanley, which based its estimate on the response of one single broker.)
For the Arkansas ad, AFP took a different approach. Its spot sings the praises of Rep. Tom Cotton, who is running to take down Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor. The ad is in sync with Cotton’s advertising strategy of producing positive, biographical ads to familiarize the state with Cotton’s background. “Congressman Tom Cotton fights for what matters in Arkansas,” AFP’s ad says, highlighting his votes against the Affordable Care Act, the 2014 budget compromise and “red tape” for farmers.
That’s all well and good, but thus far that strategy has earned Cotton an outside-the-margin-of-error polling deficit in a state that is trending conservative, hates the president, and has a vulnerable Democratic incumbent. Pryor has been killing Cotton for voting in favor of budget proposals that would turn Medicare into a voucher system and raise the eligibility age. Pretty much every ad Pryor releases is about Tom Cotton and Medicare, and the latest polling has Pryor leading Cotton among voters 60 and older by 19 points. For a Democrat in a Southern state, that’s ridiculous.
Watching these ads leaves you questioning whether AFP can really deliver on its ambition to be a political player on par with the official party committees. Yes, it has a boatload of money to throw around, but all their lavish spending to date hasn’t helped put Tom Cotton or Terri Lynn Land over the top. Ads like the ones above, with their easily disproved lies and general lameness, don’t accomplish much beyond making AFP look silly.